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Laser Microscope Boasts Unprecedented Power, Clarity (June 29, 2006)

Golgi bodies seen through the new microscope (Riken)
Scientists observing the world of microscopic organisms will soon be able to obtain real-time images with exceptional levels of clarity and magnification, thanks to a Japanese invention. The breakthrough is a new type of laser microscope. The instrument, developed by a group of organizations including the Riken scientific research center and Yokogawa Electric Corp., is said to be capable of providing insight into the extremely fast-paced movements that take place within living cells.

Real Clear
The sensitivity and measuring speed of the new microscope are more than 100 times better than current models. What is more, the instrument enables scientists to clearly and easily observe in real time a world whose inhabitants are smaller than the 100 nanometers (a nanometer being one billionth of a meter) that marks the limit of the most powerful microscopes currently in use.

According to the research team, the world's most powerful optical microscopes can make out objects no smaller than 200 nanometers. Electron microscopes are far more powerful, being able to see down to 5 nanometers. However, they only capture still images, preventing scientists from observing many aspects of microscopic life in action.

The new microscope will be combined with other high-tech instruments to function as part of an integrated system designed to observe the inner workings of living cells. Yokogawa's laser microscope, which can capture 1,000 images a second, will be coupled with such devices as an ultrasensitive camera jointly developed by public broadcaster NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) and Hitachi Kokusai Electric Inc. The camera is 200 times as sensitive as a CCD (charge-coupled device) camera.

Among the objects the system will bring into focus will be the intricate structures of cells, some as small as 50 nanometers. This will allow scientists to see how drugs affect the way cells work and how disease-causing germs invade cells.

The newly developed laser microscope (Riken)

Early Promise
This system has already facilitated one groundbreaking achievement. Scientists observing yeast were able to determine the gradual changes involved when the sac of a Golgi body takes in protein. A Golgi body is a cell organelle that sorts and distributes protein produced inside cells by transporting the protein to locations in the cell membrane and outside the cell wall.

Other scientists will have to wait until 2008 or 2009 before the new system becomes widely available. A member of the research team commented: "Not only will this system shed light on the processes of life, but it is expected to be applied in a wide range of fields, such as drug development and clinical medicine."

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Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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